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§ 201. Commodian.

(I.) Commodianus: Instructiones adversus Gentium Deos pro Christiana Disciplina, and Carmen Apologeticum adversus Judaeos et Gentes. The Instructiones were discovered by Sirmond, and first edited by Rigault at Toul, 1650; more recently by Fr. Oehler in Gersdorf’s "Biblioth. P. Lat.," vol. XVIII., Lips. 1847 (p. 133–194,) and by Migne." Patrol." vol. V. col. 201–262.

The second work was discovered and published by Card. Pitra in the "Spicilegium Solesmense," Tom. I. Par. 1852, p. 21–49 and Excurs. 537–543, and with new emendations of the corrupt text in Tom. IV. (1858), p. 222–224; and better by Rönsch in the "Zeitschrift für hist. Theol." for 1872.

Both poems were edited together by E. Ludwig: Commodiani Carmina, Lips. 1877 and 1878; and by B. Dombart, Vienna.

English translation of the first poem (but in prose) by R. E. Wallis in Clark’s "Ante-Nicene Library," vol. III. (1870, pp. 434–474.

(II.) Dodwell: Dissert. de aetate Commod. Prolegg. in Migne, V. 189–200. Alzog: Patrol. 340–342. J. L. Jacobi in Schneider’s "Zeitschrift für christl. Wissenschaft und christl. Leben" for 1853, pp. 203–209. Ad. Ebert, in an appendix to his essay on Tertullian’s relation to Minucius Felix, Leipz. 1868, pp. 69–102; in his Gesch. er christl. lat. Lit., I. 86–93; also his art. in Herzog2 III. 325 sq. Leimbach, in an Easter Programme on Commodian’s Carmen apol. adv. Gentes et Judaeos, Schmalkalden, 1871 (he clears up many points). Hermann Rönsch, in the "Zeitschrift für historische Theologie" for 1872, No. 2, pp. 163–302 (he presents a revised Latin text with philological explanations). Young in Smith and Wace, I. 610–611.

Commodian was probably a clergyman in North Africa.15661566    In the MSS. of the second poem be is called a bishop. Commodian gives no indication of his clerical status, but it may be fairly inferred from his learning. In the last section of his second poem lie calls himself Gazaeus. Ebert understands this geographically, from the city of Gaza in Syria. But in this case he would have written in Greek or in Syriac. The older interpretation is preferable, from Gaza (γάζα), treasure, or gazophylacium (γαζοφυλάκιον)treasury, which indicates either his possession of the treasure of saving truth or his dependence for support on the treasury of the church.567 He was converted from heathenism by the study of the Scriptures, especially of the Old Testament.15671567    Ebert suggests that he was a Jewish proselyte; but in the introduction to the first poem he says that he formerly worshipped the gods (deos vanos), which he believed to be demons, like most of the patristic writers.568 He wrote about the middle of the third century two works in the style of vulgar African latinity, in uncouth versification and barbarian hexameter, without regard to quantity and hiatus. They are poetically and theologically worthless, but not unimportant for the history of practical Christianity, and reveal under a rude dress with many superstitious notions, an humble and fervent Christian heart. Commodian was a Patripassian in christology and a Chiliast in eschatology. Hence he is assigned by Pope Gelasius to the apocryphal writers. His vulgar African latinity is a landmark in the history of the Latin language and poetry in the transition to the Romance literature of the middle ages.

The first poem is entitled "Instructions for the Christian Life," written about a.d. 240 or earlier.15681568    The author upbraids the Gentiles for persevering in unbelief after Christianity had existed for 200 years (VI. 2). Ebert dates the Instructions back as far as 239. Alzog puts it down much later.569 It is intended to convert heathens and Jews, and gives also exhortations to catechumens, believers, and penitents. The poem has over twelve hundred verses and is divided into eighty strophes, each of which is an acrostic, the initial letters of the lines composing the title or subject of the section. The first 45 strophes are apologetic, and aimed at the heathen, the remaining 35 are parenetic and addressed to Christians. The first part exhorts unbelievers to repent in view of the impending end of the world, and gives prominence to chiliastic ideas about Antichrist, the return of the Twelve Tribes, the first resurrection, the millennium, and the last judgment. The second part exhorts catechumens and various classes of Christians. The last acrostic which again reminds the reader of the end of the world, is entitled "Nomen Gazaei,"15691569    See above p. 854. Note 1570 and, if read backwards, gives the name of the author: Commodianus mendicus Christi.15701570    The last five lines are (see Migne V. Col. 261, 262):
   "ostenduntur illis, et legunt gesta de coelo

   memoria prisca debito et merita digno.

   merces in perpetuo secundum facta tyranno.

   omnia non possum comprehendere parvo libello.

   curiositas docti inveniet nomenin isto.

2. The second work which was only brought to light in 1852, is an "Apologetic Poem against Jews and Gentiles," and was written about 249. It exhorts them (like the first part of the "Instructions" to repent without delay in view of the approaching end of the world. It is likewise written in uncouth hexameters and discusses in 47 sections the doctrine of God, of man, and of the Redeemer (vers. 89–275); the meaning of the names of Son and Father in the economy of salvation (276–573); the obstacles to the progress of Christianity(574–611); it warns Jews and Gentiles to forsake their religion (612–783), and gives a description of the last things (784–1053).

The most interesting part of this second poem is the conclusion. It contains a fuller description of Antichrist than the first poem. The author expects that the end of the world will soon come with the seventh persecution; the Goths will conquer Rome and redeem the Christians; but then Nero will appear as the heathen Antichrist, reconquer Rome, and rage against the Christians three years and a-half; he will be conquered in turn by the Jewish and real Antichrist from the east, who after the defeat of Nero and the burning of Rome will return to Judaea, perform false miracles, and be worshipped by the Jews. At last Christ appears, that is God himself (from the Monarchian standpoint of the author), with the lost Twelve Tribes as his army, which had lived beyond Persia in happy simplicity and virtue; under astounding phenomena of nature he will conquer Antichrist and his host, convert all nations and take possession of the holy city of Jerusalem. The concluding description of the judgment is preserved only in broken fragments. The idea of a double Antichrist is derived from the two beasts of the Apocalypse, and combines the Jewish conception of the Antimessiah, and the heathen Nero-legend. But the remarkable feature is that the second Antichrist is represented as a Jew and as defeating the heathen Nero, as he will be defeated by Christ. The same idea of a double antichrist appears in Lactantius.15711571    Inst. Div. VII. 16 sqq.572

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